Perth, WA. 18th November 2015.
QANTAS, not surprisingly, fly all over Australia so it was to them I turned for a flight back north. Sorry to be leaving new friends in Perth, very pleased to be getting back to Doris.
A flight to Paraburdoo and thence a bus to Tom Price. All very easily booked on-line. I’d kept in touch with Dan, the head ranger at Karijini NP, who told me one of the ranger team went into Tom Price every Wednesday and would be able to bring me back out to the park. Sure enough a nice young woman named Robyn was waiting for me and took me back out there. At the ranger HQ they have some accommodation units and I was able to have one to myself as the high season was over and there was plenty of room to spare. And sitting right outside was my lovely Doris, waiting for me like the faithful girl she is. Looking a bit battered in places though, with more damage to the screen, some new grazes and scrapes and a pannier in need of repair. Some work to do before heading off but nothing too drastic.
One of the downsides to my enforced seven week delay now became obvious – how much temperature shad risen in that part of WA. Perth had been pleasantly warm, Karijini was now stinking hot. Fortunately there’s a covered area outside the accommodation unit so I was able to work out of the sun. Still plenty of flies to bug me though.
I had some chats with Dan, about his work at the park, bikes, accidents and injuries, and their long term effect. We compared notes and realised how attitudes can change following major incidents. I had a serious accident when I was eighteen, Dan when he was in his mid-twenties, and we both think they changed our attitudes to life.
Robyn’s position at Karijini was temporary but she was about to be interviewed for a permanent one. I hope she got it especially as she and Dan are now a couple. Good and helpful people, one of the great things about travelling in general, and Australia in particular.
Back on the road. What a great feeling! All the accumulated, brain fogging feelings brought on by enforced inactivity just fell away as the kilometres mounted. It was hot, I didn’t care. It was dusty, so what? I was on the road once more and feeling full of joy.
That evening found me camping at Nanutarra Roadhouse, on the North West Coastal Highway. I bumped into Michael there, a guy about my age, who’d set out to ride round most of his native country on his Harley. He’d come from Victoria, north to Darwin via Alice Springs, then across to Broome and down the coast road. He’d been on the road three weeks and he reckoned he was taking it easy. It sounded more like a flying visit to me but at least he was helping to dispel the myth that Harley riders never go more than twenty miles, pose for each other, then ride home again.
After a very hot night I headed to the coastal town of Exmouth and booked into a hostel for a couple of days. The area has some great beaches for swimming and snorkelling so I went to the visitor centre for some info. After that I sorted out some admin work, in particular an International Drivers Permit application for my forthcoming trip to Bali. I’d left it a bit late really but was hoping base camp could help me get it done in time.
After all that it was just too hot to go out. I went to reception and booked an extra night so I could go to the beach next day. But I felt unsettled. Something inside me just wanted to keep moving so I went back and cancelled the booking. I knew I’d be able to snorkel another time. I felt better after that and got on with some writing instead.
On the way south next morning I took a side trip into The Ranges NP, just to get a flavour. The road in was sealed but then turned to gravel. The doctor’s words ran through my mind and I rode very steadily indeed. The terrain was very dry although there are canyons and rivers to admire at wetter times. Much too hot for walking around though, so photos would have to do.
I arrived at Coral Bay, booked into the hostel for two nights and then booked a boat trip. This area is famous for its sea life and coral, making a snorkeling trip a must. But the stars of the show were, with luck, going to be Manta Rays. This section of coast is known for the proximity of Ningaloo Reef, which parallels it for over two hundred kilometres and lies two to three kms offshore. It creates a relatively shallow lagoon, a popular feeding ground for all kinds of sea life.
There were thirteen of us on the boat, along with the friendly crew. They kitted us out with wet suits and masks etc. Then we went in for our first swim, over the coral and among the colourful fish and jellyfish. The second swim was easily the best. Manta Rays had been located so we anchored up and went in again. These large fish are roughly diamond shaped, about four metres across at the widest point, and feed on plankton. They are black on top and white underneath. They draw plankton into their mouths by swimming in loops with their mouths wide open, filtering it out of the water in the process. They were completely unconcerned by our presence so we could watch this activity to our hearts’ content as we swam about. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a Storm Trooper’s helmet as I watched them looping the loop below me. The picture makes the point.
We were fed a copious amount of toasted sandwiches and cake before being offered a third swim. I declined because during the last swim the water had become a bit choppy and I was swallowing a bit too much of it. Instead I sat in the sun chatting to Steve and Aileen.
About the same age as me, they were on their annual ‘get away from the British winter’ three month tour. They’d been to Bali first and had suffered delays caused by the volcanic activity in Indonesia. Consequently their plans for collecting the camper van they’d hired had been messed up and cost them dear too. Their plans were similar to mine, which was to head down the coast to Perth, stopping at whichever of the area’s multitude of attractions took their fancy. Steve had worked for many years in the mining industry and was well travelled. Over a coffee, back on shore, we exchanged details and we’ll meet up again. They made the boat trip even better than it might have been so I looked forward to seeing them again.
On the way from Coral Bay southwards I stopped off along the coast to look at Quobba blow holes, quite spectacular with the tide coming in. Who should I see there? Aileen and Steve. So I enjoyed a cuppa and a chat with them before heading south once more.
My next planned visit was to the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, a very special place indeed. The geography of this area is determined by the presence of a series of islands and sandbars and there are two bays, created by two north/south peninsulas. There is so much to interest a geology and geography lover like me that you’ll have to forgive the long descriptions.
My first visit was to Hamelin Pool. Although lying adjacent to the vast Indian Ocean these bays are protected from the influx of ocean water by the sandbars and islands. Crucially, there are no rivers running into the bay either. Why crucial? Because these two features mean that the waters at the bottom of the bay are twice as saline as normal seawater. The water is relatively shallow and the temperatures relatively high too. All of this combines to create the perfect environment for Stromatolites. ‘What’s one of those then,’ I hear you ask? Named from the Greek meaning ‘many layered rock,’ they are formations of soft, sandy rock-like substance which contain millions of cyanobacteria. These tiny organism have sticky skin and attract minute particles of sand to themselves. Over the years they build up into layers.
But that isn’t all they do. They live by means of photosynthesis, so they absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. This particular collection of stromatolites is only around 2,000 years old but nearby fossils show they have been around for about 3.5 billion years and were the only living organism on the planet for about 2 billion years. During those times the earth was covered in shallow seas and stromatolites were plentiful. They very helpfully spent all that time farting oxygen into the atmosphere, eventually providing the 20% of it needed to sustain life as we know it today. Other creatures quickly evolved and, with no gratitude whatever promptly used their benefactors as a food source. But evolution had begun. At Hamelin Pool you can see this process taking place before your eyes. I was fascinated! There is a wooden walkway out over the shallows so the formations are easy to see, although because the wave action creates its own bubbles you can only see this oxygenation happening in a tank in the nearby café/museum.
Other natural features there include a sea shell beach from which blocks used to be cut for use as building material. The shells come from Coquana shellfish which have been bound together by the effects of rain and pressure into a layer about nine metres deep. Early settlers, in an area with almost no trees, found them perfect as building blocks.
As with many small settlements in remote areas, Hamelin Pool also served the wool trade by acting as a port for exports from the sheep stations further inland. It had a post office and a telegraph station which, in the 1960s, earned itself a place in space history. How? In 1964 the first Gemini space capsule was to be tracked across Australia using Carnarvon Tracking Station. Unfortunately, just before lift off, a lightening strike took out a few metres of the telephone line. Fortunately, although disused since the 1950s, the telegraph line through Hamelin Pool was still usable and former telegraph operator Lillian O’Donohue spent four night time hours relaying streams of seemingly meaningless figures backwards and forwards until the phone line was repaired. She earned £6 in overtime and was given a special award by NASA in recognition of her important contribution to the space race.
After all that excitement I wondered what else this relatively small area could offer. Plenty, it seemed. It has a long history, with the first European landing credited to a Dutch sea captain, Dirk Hartog, in 1612. One of the major islands is named after him. William Dampier also came to call and named the area Shark Bay, and James Cook visited too. By this time eastern Australia was firmly British but the western side nearly became French. Francois St Allouam explored the coast in the 1770s and intended to claim it for France. Unfortunately he didn’t make it back to Europe, dying en route, so the claim was never made. Small settlements grew up, mostly related to whaling and then pearling. The arrival of the sheep stations led to more trading activity and the settlements became more permanent. All this European activity is reflected in many of the local place names.
The waters in this area are a real challenge to shipping and the 200 metre high Zuytdorp Cliffs are named after a Dutch ship which foundered on the reefs. There were five major shipwrecks affecting the Dutch East India company, including the infamous Batavia, and there have been many others since.
As I rode up the main road towards Denham I noted the turn off to Steep Point, Australia’s most westerly mainland location. I wanted to take a ride out there if I could. A guy I’d been chatting to at the café at Hamelin Pool said he’d been out there in his fourby and it wasn’t too difficult. Music to my ears as I wanted to visit every point of the compass during my travels in Australia.
Denham is the main town on the peninsular and a visit to the VC gleaned two important pieces of information. Firstly, the location of the town’s only hostel and secondly that getting to Steep Point wasn’t going to be anything like as easy as suggested. They gave me the phone number of the NP ranger who advised me against trying. Even with an unloaded bike he didn’t think I’d get there as there are several stretches of deep, soft sand. I had been prepared to run the risk of having to pick up my fallen bike if necessary but his description suggested I might be carrying it more often that riding it. But there was another solution. Ocean Park, one of the local tourist attractions, offered safari trips and it would be more interesting than riding out there anyway because they’d visit several other attractions too. They needed a minimum of three people to make the trip worth running and they had two, so I was hopeful a third might turn up, even though it was now low season. It would be expensive though, but worth it. They had my number, I hoped for a call.
On the way into Denham I stopped at a couple of tourist places. The first was Shell Beach, the main location of shell block quarrying. There is information about the whole process and the remains of the quarry too. The beach is around 120kms long, quite amazing for something so unusual. The peninsular is at its narrowest at that point and the wildlife authorities were attempting to reclaim the top of the peninsular from the introduced species which cause so much damage to native flora and fauna. To this end they had erected an electric fence from one beach to the other. It was dug in deep and was proving successful in keeping out rabbits, foxes, feral cats etc.Those on the protected side of the fence were slowly being eliminated by trapping and poison. It was working well, with the numbers of native birds, mammals and their habitats now improving.
The second place was Eagles Bluff. I was able to use the walkway along the cliff top to get to lookout points, giving a superb view across the bay. Dirk Hartog island was easily visible, another place where native species were being reintroduced. I think more fascinating than anything was the large seagrass meadows lying offshore. Seagrass, related to grass found in fields, is one of those plants which create their own environment. They begin to grow in shallow water and their presence traps sand and sediments, so creating more shallow water for more grass to grow. They use photosynthesis and will trap more carbon per hectare than rainforest. Pretty important then. None of that is obvious from the top of a cliff however. But what I could see, especially with the aid of my binoculars, where a whole variety of different marine creatures swimming about and enjoying the nutrient rich coastal waters. Reef sharks, lemon sharks, turtles and stingrays, as well as many ordinary fish. The area between the shore and the seagrass beds struck me as being like a busy high street, full of takeaway food joints of any and every variety. The fish swam slowly along in the warm, turquoise water, feeding as they went. On a beautiful, lazy, sunny day this scene looked perfect. Nature at its nicest. The only disappointment was a complete lack of Dugongs.
I stayed in Denham three nights and enjoyed a visit to Ocean Park, as well as to Monkey Mia, where I went out on a catamaran trip looking for Dugongs and Dolphins.
Ocean Park is an aquarium with some fascinating specimens of local sea life. I particularly enjoyed learning about the Puffer Fish, the Stone Fish, Sea Snakes and Sharks.
Puffer Fish are loved by the Japanese but the flesh is so poisonous that it takes a chef three years to learn how to prepare one so it doesn’t poison his customers. His first solo effort will be eaten by himself – all the incentive needed to get it right.
The Stone Fish gets its name because it looks like a rock. And it really does. It just sits on or next to a rock, allows seashells and vegetation to grow on it as a disguise, then snaps up anything tasty that swims within range of its super fast jaws. If it’s forced to move it will shed its old disguise and allow a new one to grow on its skin.
Sea Snakes carry enough venom in their bite to kill 1800 humans we were told, but fortunately don’t seem too interested in biting us. Phew!
All the fish in the aquarium are there for life except the sharks. They are set free after 18-24 months and others will replace them. They adapt very easily to the change in circumstances. They’re fussy eaters and each type will only eat certain fish, ignoring anything else. We were told they don’t like human flesh but by the time they realise their mistake it’s too late for the human involved. I’m not at all sure I swallowed that line. Many other fish live in the same pool but don’t get eaten because they’re too quick to get caught. We could see one shark getting really annoyed by the presence of a fish which swam too close, looking for food droppings. It couldn’t do anything about it though.
One morning I headed out to Monkey Mia to watch the dolphins being fed. Local dolphins come in close to shore each morning, up to three times, and get some of their food from the people at the preservation centre. They’re deliberately only fed one quarter of what they need otherwise they might lose their hunting skills. They are tagged, observed and monitored as a way of learning more about their habits and behaviour. Unfortunately I arrived too late to see the feeding event. It seems they’d already been in twice and weren’t going to be back again.
Instead I decided to go on another boat trip, this time hoping to see dolphins out at sea but, more importantly, to see the elusive Dugongs. The Shotover is a former racing catamaran, now converted to carry tourists. We motored out from the jetty but then the sails were unfurled and off we went, skimming over the water as we hunted cows – Sea Cows that is, the common name for Dugongs. Eventually the cry went up: ‘Beef on the starboard bow!’ We were now close to the seagrass meadows and a Dugong had been spotted, coming up for air. I’d like to say we watched in fascination as these amazing creatures entertained us with their antics, but I can’t. What we saw, every now and then, was a large, brown lump of flesh break the surface, draw breath and go back down to continue feeding. They can stay down for around two minutes, eating 40 kilos of grass per day. To be fair, we saw very little of their shape, just a general impression of a very large animal. But at least we’d seen some and had enjoyed a good sailing trip too.
Later I went on the Sunset Sail, which had been included in the price of the earlier trip. A chilly ride but worth it for the experience. Seeing the sun set over the sea is somehow better from a boat than a beach.
Denham is a small and tidy town with a clear sense of community. I spoke to people who had settled there after a lifetime of wandering and lived quite happily among the families that had been there for many generations. Its history as a pearling and whaling town meant there were people who originated from many parts of Europe, as well as indigenous people too. It’s almost impossible not to like a well ordered seaside town, during sunny weather, with plenty of interest in the surrounding area. Meanwhile I hadn’t heard anything from the tour company with regard to getting out to Steep Point so when I left the area it was with a feeling of disappointment. But what a fascinating area is Shark Bay. It has some rare and important eco-systems and also looks stunning. The area has several national parks and is a hive of environmental activity of the best kind. Added to that is its European history, spanning four centuries, very rare for Australia. I’d love to go back sometime.
My next port of call was Kalbarri, another coastal town, near a national park that I had been recommended to visit. In the end a traffic accident and consequent road closure prevented me going there but I enjoyed some coastal walking and then a ride out to visit one of the area’s oddities, the Principality of Hutt River. The story behind this place is that the land owner seceded from the Commonwealth of Australia in 1972 following a dispute over wheat quotas. He claims to be the monarch, thus enabling certain legal relationships to exist between him and the British state, via the Governor General. In 1977 he reinforced this relationship by declaring war on Australia then, a few days later, declaring peace. The story is both amusing and bizarre. Unfortunately, despite having a had a map and directions supplied by the hostel owner, I couldn’t find it. It was supposed to be 12kms along a dirt road but after riding 25kms along it, I gave up. Shame. It would have been a fascinating visit.
Their website is here: http://www.principality-hutt-river.com/
More information is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principality_of_Hutt_River
I did mange to find, however, the lookout points from which I could see the lower end of the Zuytdorp Cliffs. Knowing how many small islands and reefs lie not far off shore, it’s easy to understand how so many ships got wrecked along this coast. In many ways it’s surprising how few there were.
I had heard from Steve and Aileen that they were in town so before I left Kalbarri I went looking for them, located their camper van and found them by the local post office. We chatted, drank coffee; chatted more, ate lunch. My plans to visit Kalbarri NP on my way through disappeared and by the time we parted company I just had time to make it to Geraldton, the next town down the coast. Aileen and Steve would be heading down there too so we hoped to link up again. I was looking forward to it.
The coastline of Western Australia runs north to south for nearly 3,000 kilometres. Bordered by the Indian Ocean to the west and vast tracts of outback desert to the east, the two most obvious features are sand and wind. The sand is often hidden by brush, grass and sometimes trees, but is never very far below the surface. Easy to forget when you’re cruising down the highway. Not so with the wind. It seemed to seek me out, blow straight in my face and suck the life out of my fuel consumption. It was at times like this I wondered whether a bigger engine would be better or worse in that respect. It’s hard to say, but it gave me something to ponder as I fought my way south. Other thoughts centred around how impressed I was by WA’s efforts to attract tourists. There were plenty of signs to advise of attractions, viewpoints and places of interest. Even the smallest of towns had tourist information boards and the larger ones had well stocked visitor centres, staffed by friendly and helpful people. Plenty of brochures, describing The Coral Coast, The Turquoise Coast, The Batavia Coast, Shark Bay, National Parks etc. They’re essential if you don’t want to miss out on hidden gems.
The town of Geraldton is one example. It’s a nondescript place in many ways. Being the regional centre for this section of Western Australia its focus is on supplies and servicing for pastoralists and the mining industry. Functional then. But the CBD has some very nice buildings, the VC is housed in the old railway station and the foreshore has recently been refurbished, making it a very pleasant place for locals and visitors to spend time. I enjoyed an informative walk around the town, following the visitor trail.
The story of these larger towns is often told by the buildings that remain and their original purpose. The Royal Victoria Hospital, for example, started out as a gaol and when the prison was built nearby it became a hospital. It was expanded as the town grew and stands as an excellent example of late 19th C colonial architecture. The prison started out as a hiring centre for convict labour. When that system ended it was extended and became WA’s second largest prison, after Fremantle. With some degree of style, the cells are now rented out to local craftspeople as commercial space, who possibly wish they still had a captive clientèle.
At one end of the waterfront is a branch of the WA Museum. It has sections devoted to local flora and fauna, mining and settlement. But the biggest and best section relates to wrecks. I was just in time to join a tour of the section dedicated to The Batavia, the Dutch East Indies ship which was wrecked off the nearby coast. An enjoyable talk and the fact there had been only five major shipwrecks off that coast, compared to the amount which made the trip, shows what good sailors the Dutch were. Their regular sea journeys were from Holland to Jakarta, then known as Batavia and now part of Indonesia. It was all about the extreme wealth to be made from the spice trade and the risks of the voyage were far outweighed by the rewards. It was the Portuguese who first discovered the ‘Spice Islands’ but the Dutch soon pushed them out of the picture. If you have a map of the world in your head or on your wall you may be wondering why any ships went near Australia, given it’s a long way south of Jakarta. The answer is the Roaring Forties.
The original route used to take ships down the west coast of Africa, back up the east coast and then across towards India before turning south again. This involved crossing the equator three times, a huge burden on ships, passengers and supplies. In the early 17th C a Dutch captain realised that if he followed the strong westerly winds that blew across the bottom of Africa, at about 40 degrees south, he might be able to avoid the long trip north and then back south again. The trick was to turn north for Jakarta at the right time and avoid the Australian coast, a tricky task given the difficulty of determining longitude in those days. But it became standard practice for the company ships and saved about eight weeks off the voyage. The extra efficiency was worth the small number of lost ships. Fascinating!
The town also has an art gallery with an exhibition of work by indigenous artists using traditional styles but modern methods. There were some great pieces there. In fact, the whole town has an air of ancient and modern, with some nice old buildings, especially in the CBD.
Next morning I met up with Steve and Aileen once more and we headed off down the coast to Greenough, a small coastal town. There is a historical village there, with many preserved stone buildings, unusual for settlements in Australia. Wood and corrugated iron is far more common. The other memorable thing about this place was the campsite or, more to the point, some of the living units on it. It looked as if people had parked caravans on pitches and left them to grow. I saw touring caravans which had been added to, over the years, by the addition of extra rooms, sheds, patios – even a garage. Very strange indeed.
Onwards to Cervantes via the horizontal gum tree. The what? Remember the strong wind I mentioned? We were now on the Indian Ocean Highway and the wind tends to be so strong that many of the trees lean over at quite an angle. But this tree takes ‘bending with the breeze’ to a whole new level. The trunk comes out of the ground vertically for about a metre then takes a sharp right angle and grows parallel with the ground, although the foliage grows more or less vertically. A very odd sight.
I found my Cervantes hostel, Steve and Aileen found their campsite, then they came and collected me and we went off to see The Pinnacles. They are in Nambung NP and the park authorities have created a driving trail which wanders among them, although before you’re allowed in they sensibly check the size of the vehicle. There’s no question about it, they are one of nature’s very unusual sights. Out among the scrub is a large area of sand which has thousands of columns of limestone rock protruding from it. The sand has gradually blown away, exposing more and more of them over the years. Mostly standing alone, they are of different heights and shapes and remain a geological mystery, with scientists unable to explain their existence with any certainty, although they have their theories. The unanswered question is why they stand as columns rather than just lumps of rock.
We drove among them, stopped at view points and generally allowed ourselves to be amazed. The afternoon light provided a shadowy contrast between them and the yellow sand. They looked like they were standing guard over ancient history.
Back at the campsite Aileen cooked up a lovely meal, likely to be the last we’ll share for some time. They were heading south next day, having to return their camper at Perth. We hoped we could meet again there but I knew it was unlikely and although they weren’t leaving Aus yet our paths weren’t going to cross. I’d really enjoyed the time I’d spent with them and, if nothing else, would pay them a visit when I’m next back in the UK.
As I’d headed south I’d been observing how the landscape was changing. Scrub and trees, then open grassy areas and, eventually, I even saw wheat fields. Clearly I was leaving the desert behind and reaching the cultivated south. But the desert wasn’t quite done yet and it presented its last hurrah in typically quirky fashion.
The prevailing south westerly wind creates these dunes and moves them across the landscape by picking up the sand at the back and depositing it at the front. They don’t support vegetation and will move about twelve metres per year. I wonder how far they’ll eventually get?
My next destination was Australind, near Bunbury, a small but growing town about 150kms south of Perth. I had a new friend to visit.
It’s easy to be cynical about Facebook friends but to the traveller an introduction by one person to another is far more likely to be a useful contact than just a name on a list. I’d been introduced to Paul by Sam Manicom and I was now heading down to pay him a call. We’d ‘spoken’ several times on-line and he’d insisted I come to visit when I was in the area. We’d also spoken on the phone and he’d made it clear I was to avail myself of his garage, tools and general assistance. This was just what I needed as Doris was a long way overdue a service and needed new tyres. Paul assured me Bunbury would have everything I needed in that respect.
A showery and blustery ride got me there by mid afternoon and Paul welcomed me into his home. He had a spare room for me and made it clear I could have the run of his house and garage for as long as I needed. Wonderful.
Paul came to Australia from Cheshire, married an Aussie girl and has two lovely boys. His brother and parents also emigrated. He knows his way around the whole country, having spent several years as a tour bus driver, a job with lousy pay but many benefits, he said. Now he’s settled down and drives road trains out to the mines at Kalgoorlie. He’s sometimes away for several days at a time but works locally too.
During my time at Paul’s I serviced the bike, gave the chain a very much needed clean, fitted new front and rear tyres, replaced the hand guards, as one had been lost when I came off in Karijini NP, and fitted another set of rear wheel bearings.
On a more personal level I went to the doctors to get some antibiotics for my recurring sore throat and got stuck in to making some insurance claims. One of these related to my broken collarbone. When I flew back north from Perth I had been hoping that the medical authorities would pay my fare. After all, they’d paid to fly me south for treatment. No chance! There is a scheme to cover this eventuality but it’s only available to WA residents. Worse than that, just after I left Perth I learned that St John Ambulance had sent an invoice for transporting me from Karijini NP to Tom Price hospital. A round trip of 180kms at a cost of $1214! I wasn’t too surprised at not having my plane fare paid but I was gobsmacked at receiving a bill for an ambulance ride. But, it seems, this is the way of things in Australia. You need to make sure you have ambulance cover.
Meanwhile Paul was treating me like visiting royalty. He used to be a trainee chef, enjoys cooking so I was well fed. He took a day off and was able to run me around Bunbury, for parts I neede,d and we were able to go out for some rides too. Paul has a Kawasaki KLR650 and we went to some local places, to watch Dolphins for example, as well as for a longer ride.
The south western corner of WA is full of places to visit. It is quite agricultural with plenty of wheat fields and vineyards. Nicely wooded and hilly too, good riding terrain and reminding me a bit of home. Except, that is, for the trees, which are very tall. We visited a couple of special ones, both Karri trees. The Diamond Tree and the Gloucester Tree are fire watch trees. They are significantly taller than those surrounding them so in the 1920s they had platforms installed near the top where fire wardens used lookiout for bush fires. They changed to spotter planes in the 1980s but have since changed back. The old system works best, it seems. I climbed the tallest one, the Gloucester Tree, using the steel spikes that are driven into the trunk and act as ladder rungs. The ladder is encased in strong steel wire for safety and the sixty two metre high platform gives a commanding view over the surrounding land.
The ride gave me a flavour of what there is to see in the area and I decided to take some day trips out while I was at Paul’s. In a few days time I was due to go back to Perth, then fly out to Bali for Christmas. I wasn’t going to have time to tour the area properly but could visit some of the nearer places and do the rest when I returned in the new year.
One afternoon, following the fitting of my new tyres, I took a ride down to Cape Naturaliste. It lies at the top of the Margaret River area, famous for its vineyards. I wasn’t interested in them but I do like lighthouses and their history. This one stands 123 metres above sea level and houses a fresnel lens and turning mechanism, which were made in Birmingham. Originally using a kerosene lamp, it only became electrically powered in 1978, amazingly late considering nearby settlements had electric power many years before. The lens was turned by a clockwork mechanism and winding that up, as well as keeping the lamp lit, was a full time job for three keepers. I was curious to know how the twelve tonne lens and housing managed to keep turning without wearing out the bearings. The ingenious method used was to float the whole assembly on twelve litres of mercury. No friction therefore no bearings required. It operates automatically now.
A couple of days later I headed back down to Margaret River, this time to go down rather than up. Ngilgi Cave was discovered by Europeans at the end of the 19th C and became an instant tourist attraction. It was a full day’s carriage ride from Busselton, the nearest town, and a hotel was built to house the visitors. How the Victorian women managed to get in and out, with their voluminous skirts, is hard to imagine. But it’s easier now and our guide showed us some nice rock formations and stalactites/mites although to be honest, nothing better than I’d already seen elsewhere.
A nice ride down to the other end of the region found me visiting Jewel Cave, as recommended by the women on the desk up at Ngilgi Cave. This was definitely very different. Only discovered in 1958, an entrance tunnel was blasted through the rock and visitors can admire twenty different varieties of calcium carbonate formation, many of them beautifully illuminated with coloured lights. The guide was very good and the whole place was very impressive.
My last visit in this area was to another lighthouse, at Cape Leeuwin. One hundred and seventy six steps took us to the top of this one. The mechanism was the same as the other one but the big difference here is the view. This point is regarded by Australia as the place where the Indian and Great Southern (Antarctic) Oceans meet. They flow in different directions and it was strange to stand there watching waves from each of them crashing against each other. I couldn’t help but wonder at the vast expanse of water in front of me.
My last ride out was to Collie, a town built around coal mining and timber. There are some nice old steam engines outside the visitor centre along with one of the early digging machines used at the open cast mine. The area used to have many underground mines but they became unsafe because of water, so surface mining was introduced. The coal from the underground mines was naturally very wet so once it was on the surface it had to be stored in ponds to avoid self ignition. That struck me as very odd but I suppose it makes sense. I visited the local museum, ostensibly about coal but really about the settlement, survival and growth of Collie. Some of the personal stories reminded me of the hard life and tough attitude of early settlers. In particular it was the women who made these places work, especially the likes of nurses and midwives. Very impressive.
Further out of town is a more modern machine, on display at the side of the road. A huge metal bucket, operated by thick steel cables, all driven by very high voltage electric motors. For some reason I found that surprising. Each bucketful will fill up one of those huge dump trucks that we hear about – around 250 tonnes per load.
I carried on riding, just admiring the countryside and seeing what there was to see. The only other thing of note was a rather bizarre place called The Dickson Country Music Centre, at Boyup Brook. The owner runs an annual C&W music festival, held in his huge barn. I was able to take a peek at the memorabilia kept in there. Little more than a collection of junk really. Outside is yet more junk in the form of rusted old vehicles and farm machinery. Across the road is the Rodeo Centre, where an annual event is also held. A walk around here showed even more of the owner’s quirky nature. There were lots of old tree trunks, stood up on end and looking rather like sculpture. Best of all was a couple of very tall cowboys, made from trees and carrying guitars. They looked great.
Back at Paul’s I got my gear organised ready to pack the bike next morning. Paul had a very early start next day so we said our goodbyes. He’s a terrific guy and showed me endless hospitality and gave me all the help I needed. Jo, Connor and Jorden, his family, are great too and I’ll be seeing them again in the new year when I return from Bali and head south again. By then they’ll be on holiday, camping down on the coast, and I’ll join them there.
I had to get back to Perth, leave my bike at David’s house, where I stayed last time I was there, and get organised onto a plane to Bali. Before I left I managed to visit Gilda again, enjoying another meal with her family. I was pleased to have been able to do that before I left although I was glad to hear she had an assignment down in Manjimup, where I’d be heading to when I returned from Bali. Good news.
One last little job for the bike. Last time I’d been in Perth David and I had visited a bike breaker for some parts he wanted. We’d spotted a second hand Givi screen there, similar to the one on my bike. I’d not bothered with it last time but now I decided I wanted it. Was it still there, two months later? Yes, it was and I got it for $50 rather than the original $60. A very useful bit of business before I headed off to enjoy a holiday from my holiday, in a very different place.